Tag Archives: nyc

the beginning of the after times

Well, that’s it: the CDC must have had one too many White Claws this weekend, because the masks can come off for the fully vaxxed.

Unless you are on public transportation.

Or you don’t want your neighbors to think you’re a science-hating conservative.

Or you just don’t want to look like an asshole who doesn’t care about public safety. So I guess the masks cannot come off and I will be matching my masks to my outfits for a little while longer. (Everything I wore in Summer 2020 was black and white polka dotted for a reason.)

I still feel like we’re in the Beginning of the After Times. When we visualized this moment, back in the spring of 2020, when the first wave was subsiding, we thought we knew what the After Times would look like. We thought one day, the schools and theaters would open, the streets would fill with tourists, and NYC would throw the biggest party since VE Day.

Now, we’re not so sure what the After Times look like. The day to day life of Brooklynites seems to be coming back tentatively, as the city creeps up towards the halfway point of vaccinations. Some night, like tonight, I walk through Prospect Heights, and there’s a quiet sense of jubilation in the streets, like everyone considers it a small victory just to be out on a nice night in May.

I hope we don’t lose that sense of gratitude as we slowly inch back towards the normal pace of life in the city. The theaters and the schools are the last two major areas that remain either closed or reduced. But those will be both open by September: there are opening dates for Broadway now and the schools are holding parent forums on how to safely reopen at full capacity. (TAKE MY CHILD NOW NYC) The restaurants and bars have been spilling into the streets for weeks. The subway is going back to 24/7 and actually has people on it again. Everywhere I look, I see the city slowly regaining the sense of self that really only comes from its citizens.

Still, we’re not quite in the After Times. I’m not sure what will even define the After Times: will it be when we end the restrictions put in place to reduce the spread of COVID? Or will it be when we feel like time passes normally again? Right now, I still don’t feel like time passes the same way it did in the Before Times. It seems to pass too quickly or not at all. My perception of time stops and starts in a way I haven’t experienced since I was home on maternity leave. I still have a sense of being disconnected from the world that causes me to either look up and realize it’s May 14th already, or wonder why last May seems like it was three years ago. Time is hard to measure right now because we don’t have all the little differences from day to day that we used to have two years ago.

I also won’t feel like we’re in the After Times until I’m able to go out in a group of people again without completely freaking out. I just spent the past twenty five years re-wiring my brain to not short circuit in large groups of people. But now, the sensation of being in a large group of people I don’t know is overwhelming. I feel simultaneously invisible and vulnerable, and it’s challenging to remain calm and present in a large group. Maybe this will change over time, or maybe it will vary with my comfort level with the environment. Would I be okay in a goth club because that is my habitat? Is this a wiring left over from a childhood fear of rejection by groups? Do I now have to put the time and effort into actually figuring this out and trying to calm my brain like it’s a spooked horse?

So, I walked home tonight, past clusters of people out carousing on Flatbush. I took my mask off when I got to Grand Army Plaza, so I could smell the greenery in the park, and so I could actually feel air on my face. And for the first time in a year, it felt like the After Times were actually approaching, and in fact, might already be here for some people. I expected that the After Times would be like the Day the Rain Stops in Vancouver, when we all agreed, usually in early April, that the rain had stopped. It would rain again, but the winter rain, the Long Rain, was over. Now, I’m realizing that we will not have a consensus like that when we come back from COVID. This is a once in a century experience, not an annual change in seasons that every Pacific Northwesterner is attuned to. There are still people grieving those lost to COVID, for whom the impact is forever. The symbolism and the milestones may also be different for everyone, as we look to regain the parts of our lives that are most important to us. But we’re at the beginning of the After Times now, and it’s a time of cautious optimism trending to all out joy I’m grateful to be here for.

the value of normal

One week ago, I had a day that felt like a normal day. It was a Tuesday. I woke up early (not by choice), did a live Peloton class, showered, blow dried my hair, and went to work. I worked in my office for a few hours, then walked up to Sweetgreen for my lunch salad. I left work at 6:30 for drinks with my friends at a bar in SoHo, after which we walked to a bar on the Lower East Side for a nightcap. It felt like the kind of day I could have had any any point before 2020, and I came home energized from it.

Since March of 2020, we’ve all learned to place a high premium on “feeling normal”. In New York City especially, I think we have a heightened appreciation for the idea of normalcy. So many of the things that we associate with this city have disappeared or been radically changed by the pandemic: the subway, the arts, restaurants. Even the most basic of New York necessities, the public space, has changed. All of those third spaces that we used to go to when our tiny apartments closed in on us, have been rendered inhospitable. Whether it is the privately owned coffee shops or the publicly owned libraries, a workspace or a bar, the idea of shared indoor space is gone, and with it, much of our lives in the city.

After ten months, the idea of returning to any of those third places is intensely appealing. There’s a sort of muscle memory to normalcy, the feeling of being in a non-pandemic world that goes with a presence in a third place. While I am home, I am constantly reminded that my son and I have both compressed our lives into our apartment, with Ben doing remote learning from the couch, and me constantly trying to replicate my office a few feet away. When I am at the office, even though it is empty, it feels like a normal workday. And more importantly for me, it also feels like I am there to be my working self, not trying to stretch between two identities, dividing myself constantly between my personal and professional existences. That was the work/life balance I was used to before the pandemic: being able to exist in one state or the other, based on the physical location I was in.

So last Tuesday, I worked a full day. (Okay most of a full day, as I also spent an hour chatting with a woman on the office maintenance team about our teen kids and how much Biden seems like a far nicer person than the outgoing president.) Then I hopped on a J train and booted it up to the Bowery to meet my friends at Feliz Coctelería. We had booked what is being referring to as “mezcal cabins” for a ninety minute seating. “Mezcal cabins”, fyi, translates to “backyard greenhouses with holiday decor”.

You can rent a private mezcal cabin in Nolita for the holidays
This is the most of the exterior of the mini-greenhouse I could find in any promotional photo

I applaud the creativity of New York City restaurants in creating individual spaces for households or other integrated COVID pod groups to sit in! There are bubbles, yurts, tents, all sorts of structures throughout the city. But the most popular does seem to be the suburban backyard sized greenhouse, that square structure, usually about 6 x 6, that just holds a party of four at their table for their adorable holiday hot drinks:

Hot toddies and one carrot–and-mezcal cocktail in the snowman (mine)

After we were done with our cabin, we wandered the Lower East Side for a while, looking for another open bar with decent options. Of course, it was deserted: the combination of cold and COVID on a Tuesday night does not exactly encourage nightlife. After ten minutes of wandering though, we stumbled upon Attaboy, where my friends were able to order another round. (I am old and therefore stopped at one-and-a-half cocktails rather than dig myself a hole for Wednesday). But even without ordering myself, I was able to vicariously enjoy the experience of going to a bar, telling the bartender what you enjoy, and having a drink mixed to your taste. Even sitting outside, in a wind shelter, it still felt like we were at a bar, in that shared space. It was an experience that, while chillier, greatly resembled a pre-pandemic night out.

We finished our drinks (I had a club soda), and then walked to the B line and went home…but I was practically giddy when I walked in the door. I had had what felt like a normal day. I had a day in which I went to work, accomplished actual work, and then went out with my friends. I left the house for well over twelve hours, during much of which I was able to forget that there is still a deadly pandemic happening around me, and the price of mine & my fellow New Yorkers’ safety is to have our lives reduced to fragments of what we used to have in this city.

Such is the value of normal right now. I’m hopeful that we’ll continue to see more normalcy as the rates come back down again, as vaccinations go up, and as the city re-adapts to the post-pandemic world. Normal once would have sounded boring. Now it sounds inspiring.

the flattening of 2020

There is a flat aspect to life right now that we are just not used to in 21st century urban America. The world seems like it lacks dimension, like everything has been reduced down to the flat line we’re all traveling on to get to the other side of this crisis. We are so used to lives with so many wonderful aspects, that to be lacking in experiences, whether those are shared or not, renders life strange and devoid of color.

Walking through Manhattan today, I thought about how one of the major impacts of this shutdown is the removal of choice. Being out of the house, walking around a city, my instinct is to be able to take a break in a cafe or restaurant, to be able to go inside a landmark or museum, or to be able to shop if I see an interesting store. All of those choices are gone right now. There is no choice to duck into a store, nor is there an option to sit in a Starbucks and doodle in my journal. At night, the bars and clubs are closed, and there will be no goth club events for the foreseeable future. These small, everyday choices are effectively negated by the pandemic, as all “third places” have been rendered closed until further notice. For a city like New York, which depends on those third places to give its citizens space outside their tiny apartments, this adds a further sense of confinement to the already narrowing world.

The second shared impact is temporal dysphoria effect of the shutdown. The pandemic has created a shutdown state in which we are all reduced to the same daily routines, in the same space, without any of the movement or change that delineated days, weeks or even months. It isn’t just an issue on weekdays, when the workday ends and we lack the transition to home lives. It is the weekends, in which we remain in the same space, often doing the same tasks on a Saturday as we might have on a Monday. It has been the months in which we have not been able to gather for holidays, or attend the events we associate with spring, or engage in any of the societal milestones that usually mark time. Time has lost meaning for many of us, as our spatially based routines have been interrupted and eliminated. Our lives have lost those temporal dimensions.

With the flattening of our experiences though, and the compressing of our sense of time, there is also a shared sense of loss for these strange months. We all feel as if our lives are passing us by. There is a lethargy and a despair that is beginning to set in among New Yorkers, as we go into our twelfth week of quarantine without a real end date in sight. There is a lack of hope setting in, coupled and connected to a deep fear of negative change. We are unable to hope without a timeline for when hope might be practical, yet we are absolutely able to fear the future without a set schedule of when it might arrive. We lack the hope of being able to look forward to all of the things we loved about the city, which leaves us all without a counterbalance to the deep sense of foreboding and dread as to what the city will look like when we are on the much anticipated other side of this pandemic.

Fear without hope means that even this flattened existence feels unstable. The one-dimensional existence we all feel we occupy right now still manages to feel as if it has a deep dread underneath it, as if we are all on a sheet of ice over unfathomable dark waters. Every day we hear new stories of loss, of possibilities being extinguished, either by the disease or by the economics of the situation. It is the only thing that moves time forward, the litany of news that seems to remind us every day that there is a disease threatening the most vulnerable among us, that the urban way of life may be a victim of the disease, and that there is a madman in charge of the country who offers no support or compassion to any victim.

I am hopeful that these will, however, be the darkest days of the pandemic. I am hopeful that we can open up NYC without putting the people at risk who already need more support just to survive, provided we are mindful of that risk as we do so. I am hopeful that experiences and choices will expand, slowly, to give us all back the connection to the city, to each other and to our lives’ experiences we miss so very much. Until then though, we will all have to rely on our sense of empathy and compassion to get through this.

underestimating parenting problems in an age of inequality

Every day of this pandemic, I feel as if I am accountable to bear witness to the impact the coronavirus has on other New Yorkers. At first, it was the economic impact, as the service jobs disappeared quite literally overnight, back in March. Then it was disproportionate impact COVID-19 has on the less affluent neighborhoods of New York, the food deserts impacted with high air pollution, where the conditions of the neighborhood make the residents more prone to the effects of the virus. Now it is knowing that an essential workforce goes out there every single day to take care of other New Yorkers.

Credited to Bruno Iyda Saggese

The COVID-19 quarantine is also terrifying in the impact it has on children and their education. In New York City alone, thousands of students have city issued devices, but no wi-fi with which to access the school curriculum online. I would imagine even more students have access but do not have parents who are able to support them in the transition to online learning, due to tech literacy or language barriers. This is an issue across the country, but has been in high focus in New York due to the massive gaps in access in such a small geographic area.

And it isn’t only school where children, my son’s classmates and peers, are impacted. Yesterday, I was reading an article on how this summer will be bleak for children and especially for those children in New York City who are already impacted harder than Ben has been due to coronavirus. The lack of city programs, from a combination of budget cuts and quarantine precautions, will have a massive impact on children throughout this city.

Knowing all this, witnessing all this, we have of course been budgeting to send extra money to CAMBA for wifi in shelters or to CHIPS for food bank assistance. Our donations, however, are only a drop in the bucket of what’s needed. Millions of dollars would be a Band-Aid on the effects of inequality on New York kids just like my son, as they struggle to learn and keep up, as the gaps in access and privilege are made even wider by the pandemic. And so, my mental landscape has been shaped by our privilege and good fortune, our middle class comfort, my son’s ability to transition to remote learning with far more ease than a lot of his peers due to his age and materials for learning and his parents’ ability to support him.

It wasn’t until this week that I realized I had been underestimating Ben’s quarantine related sense of loss, as it fell into the peripheral vision of how very much we do have as a family. I had focused on how easy it was for Ben to transition to online learning, using the tech skills he’s developed over the years, combined with my own decades of white-collar organization. Paul and I saw him sitting down and working every day, looking at his schoolwork on Google Classroom, connecting through Zoom to his extracurricular activities and his friends. We thought that because we were able to support him in replicating his life on digital platforms, that he had adapted and everything was fine.

We dramatically underestimated the impact of social distancing on our kid, as his entire life has been yanked out from under him. Ben lost less than many New York kids due to the resources he still has at home, but he still lost a lot when the social distancing went into effect six weeks ago. Ben lost his freedom and his independence, his ability to take the subway or go for lunch at Chipotle. He lost engaging with his friends every day in their school habitat. He lost baseball, which is one of his passions, as Mr Sportball loves the sports. He lost all his in-person contact in every single activity, and I cannot expect him to get the same emotional value out of a digital equivalent. He can’t even go out and shoot hoops with a neighbor kid right now as playdates are even unsafe. So much of what was important to my son, all these things he has been discovering are part of who he is and who he is growing up to be, are completely absent from his life right now.

We discovered this week that this had manifested in some serious behavior issues, which I will not go into at the request of Ben, who has asked me to please not tell everyone what he did because he is very ashamed of himself and is very sorry. And as my son becomes a teen and a tween, I’m trying not to reveal his life as an extension of mine, but rather, accept that he is a separate person from me and that I can only write or talk about him as part of my own story and the impact being his mom has on me. For the intents and purposes of what I am struggling with today, what Ben did isn’t actually that relevant. What is relevant is that I assumed he was okay because we, as a family, have been so fortunate, and it was a mistake to do so. Of course Ben is not okay; of course he needs more support from his parents as he’s dealing with a situation that is scary and weird and most of all, lonely.

That is what I am now trying to deal with. My baby is mostly okay, but in some very deep ways, he is not. Nor should he be. No one is okay in all this. Even the most fortunate of us are not okay. I had assumed that because I am one of the 30% of Americans who easily transitioned to working from home, we would be more okay than most, and perhaps we are. But I cannot view okay-ness on a relative scale and reduce my son’s mental health to a binary: just because he has more then a lot of other kids does not mean his life will feel whole at this time. He is still struggling and he is still lonely and cooped up and miserable, and until this week, we had not given him permission to not be okay.

I tend to view my life through a lens of class privilege. That lens, however, doesn’t allow for a lot of recognition of my own problems when they are made relative to the much greater issues of the wider world. I would prefer my son to feel comfortable with his own problems, to feel like he is allowed to have those problems, and not like his problems are completely negated by his own middle class situation. Ben’s lack of happiness should not be diminished or made irrelevant due to the context of inequality the pandemic has brought into sharp relief around us. He should not be blinded to how fortunate he is, but also should not be made to feel as if he has to reduce his own emotions as to not seem ungrateful.

I’m going to have to carefully balance this, as I work out how to ensure my son remains aware of everything he does have, without feeling as if his material security and access to education cancel out his right to feel and express negative emotions. Parenting, even for the most privileged of us, is extra hard and extra complicated and extra fraught right now, and I am now much more aware of that than I was last week.

every day is like sunday

Well, perhaps every day is not quite silent and grey, but it does feel a bit like waiting for an Armageddon. Especially since the President has decided to take this opportunity to start breaking down environmental laws so everyone’s lungs and immune systems will be good and weakened for the next pandemic. (Do not even get me started on how millions of Americans are waiting for checks because Trump insisted on using the government funded stimulus as a campaign stump).

It’s been just over four weeks now since what I still think of as the Day the World Ended, back on March 12th. That evening, I was supposed to go to a very worthwhile charity event with one of our media vendors. My boss and I had been invited to meet our sales reps for blowouts at Drybar before the show, and so we took the subway uptown mid-afternoon to do so. But by the time we got to the Upper West Side, the event had been canceled; by the time my hair was blow dried, Broadway was shut down. The group of us scheduled to spend that evening at the concert immediately went together to a wine bar and spent four hours drinking, watching the news alerts on our phones, as social distancing went from the opt-in it had been two days before, to a critical order to save lives. We knew things were about to change and that this would likely be the last night we had in “normalcy”.

In hindsight, listening to a siren right now somewhere in Brooklyn, this entire day was irresponsible. At the time, COVID-19 was spreading through New York. We had hundreds of cases we didn’t know about. We had a curve of sickness and death coming for NYC that we all drastically underestimated. And I still chose to go to work that day even though the office looked like this:

Of course I suspect many of my teammates who opted to work from home on Thursday the 12th, also were out at bars until all the bars shut down on Sunday the 15th

By Sunday the 15th, when the first wave of businesses were forced to close to prevent gatherings, Paul and I had decided to keep Ben home from school starting on March 16th. We saw the pleas from teachers to reduce the number of kids in school; we had the privilege and luxury of being able to stay home with our child (By “we” at the time, I meant “me”, as OMD went from “rotating staff” to “work from home” over the course of the weekend). I had barely had time to post that decision and rationale on Facebook before the schools shut down.

Two days later, the Canadian border closed, causing me to hyperventilate in panic that I might not be able to get home, as Amtrak and Porter Airlines stopped service to Toronto.

By the end of the week, we were in Cuomo’s version of “shelter in place”, watching as the governor cheerfully shamed our local Greenmarket on national TV:

The city has 24 hours to come up with a pedestrian streets plan to ...

In hindsight, I did not stop to just think through what the impact would be to the healthcare system and how many of our healthcare workers would have to put their own health at risk to save others. I did not know, that last day, that there would be this high of a curve to flatten. None of us knew back in early March that this disease had been quietly spreading below the line of public consciousness for weeks. I knew the coronavirus would rage through New York, and that it would impact the most vulnerable of my neighbors, but I did not realize how horrifying it would be to see New Yorkers put their lives on the line every day for the past month.

I did not know COVID-19 would rage uncontrolled and unchecked through the people who make New York City what it is: our MTA conductors, our teachers, our first responders, and most of all, our healthcare workers.

I did not realize how COVID-19 would kill hundreds of people who worked tirelessly for years to ensure my neighborhood’s children are taught, that we get to work, that we are safe, that we, and our neighbors, are cared for.

I jumped on the #flattenthecurve bandwagon the week after the world ended, but I wish I had jumped on it sooner and encouraged everyone else to do so. I am not sure if more of these brave and self-sacrificing New Yorkers would still be here if all of us had done so.

So here we are four weeks later. We adjust every day to a “new normal”, until that new normal shifts under our feet. At least one day per week now feels like the Day the World Ended over again, as things change faster than I can mentally process. This week, two of my friends came down with COVID-19. This week, the layoffs started at OMD. And when the first round hit yesterday at work, I shut down and spent the evening numbing my brain as much as possible:

For the record, I was drinking organic tequila mixed with CBD infused, watermelon flavored sparking water, because I intend to remain as bougie as possible and also did not need a hangover today.

This is not waiting for Armageddon, but it does feel, every day, like there is a next step towards some sort of partial apocalypse: more sickness, more death, more sorrow, or, on the other side of this COVID-19 coin, more jobs lost, more people without even basic resources, more people vulnerable than ever before to the consequences of the extreme capitalism of America in the early 21st century. Every day is like Sunday, and even a beautiful spring Friday has an undertone of being silent and grey. We will all wait this out, we will all get to the changed world on the other side. I just wish we didn’t have to all bear witness, together, to as much despair and suffering on the way as we all will before this is over.

staycation, all i ever wanted

This weekend, I found myself with an unexpected block of time on my hands. OMD closed on Friday for the day, giving me a four day weekend. Originally, I had planned to go to a BTC3 camp in Virginia, as a trainer, to assist there as needed. (“BTC3” aka “Brownsea Training Camp v3.0” is the B-PSA weekend experiential training for leaders). However, with 12 trainers and only 7 attendees, I wasn’t actually needed at the camp. Still, I wasn’t particularly needed at home, either: both Ben and Paul have gone to Pittsburgh for the weekend to visit Paul’s family. Without work, without my men, without even my friends (who all left town this weekend), I was suddenly left with four days of unscheduled time.

Fortunately, I have never had a problem filling time. I always have a zillion things I would like to be doing at any given moments, but due to the limitations of time and energy, I find all those things difficult to actually get to in the course of a day. So I promptly filled up the weekend with a whole list of things I wanted to do, and then got to about half of them, which is par for the course.

I started my weekend, however, in Pennsylvania, visiting my friends the Northeast Commissioners for B-PSA. Basically, it was Scout nerding out for sixteen hours. As the NYC Commissioner, I oversee the biggest concentration of Scouts in the Northeast, and working through how NYC as a District works and integrates the Northeast as a region has required some discussion. Also we all love talking about just general Scout stuff, like hikes, songs, skits, get togethers…and that’s just for the adult Scouts. Talking about shared visions for our particular organization is also one of my favorite things ever, and I loved being able to visit my fellow Commissioners and talk through all the things we want to do.

Also, we got to go to Longwood Gardens, which is seriously like an American Versailles, except it doesn’t have a chateau. But it does have both formal water gardens as well as meadows and treehouses. It reminded me of Versailles because it had both sides of the planned garden experience: the formal gardens, and the composed countryside, almost like Marie Antoinette’s hamlet

After walking the gardens though, it was time to say goodbye. My fellow Commissioners were packing up their Pathfinder and Timberwolf and heading to BTC3; I was heading home to NYC. Of course, despite the day off, I was still on a schedule: I had had to cancel my Thursday lunchtime session with my anxiety therapist due to a client call no one else had the knowledge base or authority to cover. I had rescheduled to Friday at 4:15 and, assuming that I might not have time to go to Brooklyn and park the car, I chose to pre-book parking as close as possible, near my office in Lower Manhattan. And the timing actually worked out perfectly: despite a slowdown in the Holland Tunnel that appeared during my half-hour snack-and-pee-break in New Jersey, I made it to my appointment at exactly 4:18pm.

After I finished at 5pm though, that was when my free time really started. I had the car parked until 10pm, was already wearing my workout clothes, and had taken advantage of a ClassPass “two weeks free” offer. It was time to go do some sort of trendy workout where I would be the oldest and heaviest person in the room! Enter FitHouse!

The studio is set up with Insta in mind, but the workouts are still real.

I then decided to get a CitiBike, which I almost never use because I prefer my own bike. CitiBikes are heavy, and it is almost impossible to feel like myself when riding one. I’m used to flying down a street, leaning over my handlebars, my center of gravity ready to swerve between cars, my hands and elbows loose to absorb shocks when I hit NYC potholes. CitiBikes force me to sit up straight in a way that makes it impossible to merge with the bike like it’s an extension of myself, like how I feel on my bike, plus I have to have my arms out with my elbows almost locked, which is much more jarring. However, needs must when in the city, and I just wanted to get from Tribeca to Bryant Park with a stop at Trader Joe’s for a picnic.

Why Bryant Park, you may ask? Bryant Park was where I was going to see the “picnic performance” of Othello, a Shakespeare play I had not seen before, but one where I was very curious to see. Why did Shakespeare choose to tell the story of a black man? How did this reflect the emerging globalization of the times? What cliches about racism remain consistent to this day about black men? Put into the modern American context, Othello raises a lot of questions – which may be why the play directors chose modern America military dress for the men, with white outfits of varying modesty for the women.

There is also something surreal about seeing plays with a city of glass in the background

After Othello, I was out of time on my parking, and so, I headed home: across the Brooklyn bridge, back to Prospect Heights. One thing I had not considered, however, was the impact of the West Indies Celebration on my neighborhood at the beginning of the weekend. I had expected more people coming in towards the end of the weekend, especially on Sunday night when the celebrations run all night long, and on Monday when the parade goes down Eastern Parkway two blocks away. I had not, however, considered that all my neighbors would have friends and family visiting, and my street would be so short on parking that cars would be double parked, possibly waiting hours for spots. I know in theory that two million people show up each year to celebrate West Indies culture, but I had neglected to consider that many of them would be arriving via car for the weekend. Cue twenty minutes of desperate circling, before eventually catching a car leaving a spot a quarter mile away.

And then, that was it: the end of Friday, of Day One. I always miss my men when I’m away from them, but it was so nice to be spending the day knowing that just because I was on my own, did not mean I was taking time away from Paul and Ben to do so. I see so little of my men on a day to day basis – between work and school, we’re almost like roommates during the week (and I have a whole comedic monologue about what a terrible roommate Ben is). I’m therefore reluctant to spend time on my own, away from them, when they’re available for me to spend time with. This weekend, however, there was no option for me to be with my family. There was only my time, and how I would spend it. And with Friday over, I was very content with the choices I had made for that time.

mama-ben adventure day!

Many years ago, I came up with the model for Mama-Ben adventure days.  These were days in which we would pick one or two activities to do together, usually in Manhattan, hence the “adventure” part because you never know what kind of adventure would await those who brave the weekend subway! With Ben’s sports schedule though, it’s been a while since we’ve been able to do a solid Saturday adventure together.  So yesterday, we decided that we would spend the day exploring and seeing things a little further from home, both in Manhattan and the Bronx.

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Ben is actually in the Bronx!

We started our day at the Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibit, at the New York Historical Society on the Upper West side.  This was a literal history of magic as seen through a Harry Potter lens: historical artifacts from magical practices over the last five centuries, intermixed with illustrations and notes from the books.  A friend and I bought tickets for this in April for our Pottermaniac children to see the exhibit together.

Harry Potter exhibit at British Library
This made the exhibit a smidge drier than expected, even for my self-identified Ravenclaw.  While he had mild curiosity around alchemy as the forerunner of chemistry, and enjoyed the interactive elements (projections of Tarot cards were an especial favorite), not even the Natalie Dormer narrated audio tour could make this magical enough.  Individuals more into the magical aspects of the Harry Potter series, as opposed to the action elements, will get more out of this exhibit.  The exhibit was beautifully done, of course, with each room carefully crafted and designed to reflect the studies covered within.  I wish photography had been allowed.
We moved on from there to an impromptu lunch at Shake Shack: having run into another friend at the end of the exhibit with her two sons (the younger of which is also buddies with Ben), we decided to all get lunch together.  Believe it or not this was our first trip to Shake Shack!  Ben declared it the best burger ever.  We plan to test drive the method at home ASAP.
We headed from the Upper West Side to Orchard Beach after lunch, a half-hour drive across the Bronx and through the also unvisited Pelham Bay Park.  For the seven years we’ve lived here, we’ve clearly not prioritized visiting all the parks as we should.  Pelham Bay was lovely and huge, with an extensive shoreline that was austerely beautiful in the winter cold and grey.
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This reminds me of beaches in Victoria: it looks cold even in the photo
We had traveled out for seal watching with the NYC Park Rangers.  I am so grateful for the park rangers in this city: every single one of them has been amazing in their kindness, knowledge and in the joy they take sharing their love of nature and their parks.  For the seal watching, they had set up two high powered telescopes so we could see the dozen or so harbour seals lounging on the rocks just off the beach
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Ben is very fond of harbour seals: he bonded with the ones that live off the Oak Bay marina when he was just a toddler:

It was therefore meaningful for us to visit those seals’ New York cousins, even though I’m pretty sure that these Bronx seals were all WHAT’RE YOU LOOKING AT, PUNK.  Ben still enjoyed seeing them, and I appreciated the opportunity to show him seals that are not dependent on humans for food.  Ben is very concerned about the Victoria seals since the “no feeding” rules were enforced; these seals proved that even metro area harbour seals can survive without handouts.

From the seals, we stayed in Pelham Bay Park and went to the Turtle Cove golf center for mini-golf.  I was underwhelmed by the mini-golf course, which I suppose could be described as “minimalist”.  I suspect the positive reviews of the location are for the driving range, which looked quite nice.  However, we were the only people playing mini golf and they had a heater in the women’s bathroom so the experience was redeemed.  Also, Ben’s attitude towards mini golf is what most people say about pizza: even when it’s bad, it’s still just fine.  It was hard for me to say no to a second round, even in the ocean-adjacent chill. Fortunately, that was when one of Ben’s buddies mom’s texted, asking if Ben could come see Ralph Breaks the Internet with her son, and I was able to leverage that as a reason to skip Round Two. Also, Ben only wanted a round two because I had beat him, 49 strokes to his 63, and he is very competitive about his mini-golf.

It was, chilliness aside, a lovely adventure day.  Ben is getting larger every day, and needs me less and less all the time.  I’m grateful when he genuinely wants to spend time with me, when in-city adventures with Mama are more important than playdates.  I’m even more grateful when I can find an activity that is special to both of us, like going out to see the seals.  I do not wish to appropriate the phrase “spirit animal”, but in my British Isles heritage, there is the myth of the selkie instead, which both Ben and I insist we are when there is a plate of raw fish involved.  However, we are coming up on teen years, and I’m running out of days when Ben will want to acknowledge the significance of marina mammals in our family narrative.  Some day, I will just get an eye roll and a muttered “seals are so lame, Mom.” from him.  Until that day comes, I need to better prioritize the time I do have him for adventures like this.

Why so serious?

Paul and I were glad to end up in NYC for many reasons. Not the least of these is that there is still a goth scene here. Goth is a dying subculture, after all, in a quite literal sense. In cities all over America, clubs are closing and in places where the subculture wasn’t strong to start with, it hasn’t taken much to wipe it out entirely. And while my husband and I do not feel like we need to be hardcore goths every single day, there are times when we just want to wear our stompy boots and black outfits and dance with each other to that particular strain of melancholia that is goth music. Hence, we are happy to live in New York, the birthplace of American goths, and one of only a handful of cities remaining with a dedicated scene.

And so, we have been trying to explore the goth scene, and trying to understand where we belong in it. In Los Angeles, we knew all the promoters and clubs. We followed DJ Xian, with her synth pop and steampunk scene. We went to Das Bunker, with its three rooms of hardcore industrial, retro EBM and powernoize. And we went to Bar Sinister, Los Angeles’ longest running, privately owned goth club, which was predictable in the best way possible in that it always looked and sounded like something out of a dystopia, plus it had both a live band playing outside and a dance floor. (I saw Shiny Toy Guns there. Before they were cool)

We have found some clubs we really like in the process. Two weeks ago, we went to Necropolis, in the basement space of a club in the Lower East Side. We were early, and walked in before midnight to a DJ a little older than us, playing a mix of what we could only describe as real goth, first-wave goth, classic goth rock from before the culture started evolving and splitting into sub genres in the 1990s. It’s a style of music we know, and like, but not a genre where we know any artists beyond the big, popular, bands that are still staples of clubs everywhere – bands like Virgin Prunes or Christian Death, or, most recognizably, Sisters of Mercy.

The second DJ who came on was playing music that was more from what we think of as “our era”: Rosetta Stone, London after Midnight. I bounced off the floor when he threw in an EBM dance track: Icon of Coil’s “Dead Enough for Life” (it had been so long since I’d heard it that I didn’t remember the song title, even though I was happily singing along). But after that oneindustrial techno track, it was 1990s goth rock – not a synthesizer, sample or drum machine to be heard.

I’m used to second -wave clubs where the DJS play a mix of synth, electro, Deathrock and mandatory classic goth tracks. In fact, a year ago, if someone had told me there were clubs where no one put VNV Nation on the playlist, or where it wasn’t mandatory to play “This Corrosion” once a night, I would have been surprised. After all, I came of age in the goth scene in 2000, in Seattle, which, at the time, was all EBM and electronic industrial and the Metropolis record label. And Los Angeles, much to my surprise and delight, was very similar to Seattle. I adapted fast to L.A., and it was that existng familiarity with the West Coast goth scene that led to meeting my husband at Bar Sinister a few months after I started going back to goth clubs.

But here in NYC, there is no Bar Sinister…or, at least, we have yet to find it. There is no self-stereotyped goth club, nothing that is borderline vampy and campy like Sinister was. The scene here is serious, old-school serious, Deathrock and goth rock and post punk dominate, and there are none of the new goth bands (like my beloved Birthday Massacre) to be heard. My equally beloved rave-influenced electronic dance music is missing, and instead, everything is from a generation I missed entirely. Not by much, mind you – the advent of electronics and synthesizers into goth coincided with my 21st birthday – but it’s still something I never picked up.

It isn’t that I don’t know or haven’t heard of these bands. I know who Mission UK are, or Gene loves Jezebel, or Fields of the Nephilim. I definitely know the Chameleons, because “Swamp Thing” is our song, a late 80s alternative track that my husband liked enough to gain enough courage from to ask me to dance, all those years ago (and we played it at our wedding, and I sang it to Ben as a lullaby). But hearing these songs without a track listing in a club, I can’t identify the artists. Much of it has that melodramatic sound, the melodic, mournful sound of that late 80s/early 90s goth rock. Or it has the sharp edges and asynchromatic nature of post punk, the discordant, minimal bass, guitar and drum around less sung than spoken vocals. ( Paul likes post punk better than I do – it overlaps with his indie rock nature.)

And it has been like that in the clubs we have been to in Lower Manhattan. Maybe its that these clubs are in “Gothtown”, the East Village, Alphabet City and Lower East Side scene that goth came from, and it just hasnt changed since. The only other major variation has been the extremely stompy hardcore industrial club that Paul enjoys, but it is really stompy, like Skinny Puppy stompy. Before my time, and not my variation, either – I was never a rivethead.

It is also a different scene here, in terms of dress and fashion, than it was in LA. The biggest DJ/promoter in LA was DJ Xian, who somehow managed to run and play at multiple clubs. Her influence skewed to New Romantic and synth pop, in clubs like Malediction Society and MODE:M, which was an entire night of music influenced by Depeche Mode. She ran Alice in Wonderland and Victoriana special events: Paul and I spent one NYE at a party called “Theater des Wyrm”, complete with absinthe. This fit my corsets and long dresses style perfectly. I have always been a Victoriana style goth, and my favorite clothes – the ones I feel most comfortable in – are ankle-length, laced at the waist, and high necked, preferably with lace sleeves and visible lacing.

The box of clothes I brought from LA are therefore all skewed to this aesthetic. Yet I don’t see any steampunk or repro Victoriana in the clubs here. I don’t even see much cyber goth, although that may be more due to cyber goth being outdated. (I flirted with cyber goth ten years ago, but even then, my PVC dress was ankle length…and I was never able to get the cyber goth braids and dyed hair I wanted because I work in office jobs)

But while I miss the predictability and the familiarity of the L.A. Goth scene, I am getting used to this more old school version of the goth scene. It’s still a scene, a sound, a style I love. It’s still music I like and enjoy listening to, even if I don’t know it. And that’s why, when I went out with my husband two weeks ago, we still managed to dance for an hour, even though we didn’t know the music by heart. It was music we liked, it was our people, and we could have stayed all night had we not been already tired.

Sharing the world from the back of my bike

I consider the bicycle to be the perfect solution for short distance transportation. Its faster than walking, yet isn’t at a speed where i lose connection to the world around me. In a car, you’re cut off from the world around you; in a subway, the subway is the world around you. On a bike, I can speed through the streets of NYC, from Brooklyn to Manhattan and back, and see, feel, and even smell every detail of the city around me. (This is more pleasant when it’s a passing restaurant than when it’s Garbage Tuesday). Living in a city as dense and fascinating as New York, i think riding a bike is the perfect way to get around.

And, because I am from the Pacific Northwest, being able to ride my bike in a city is important to me. I still take the same joy from flying through a city street, from outpacing a car in traffic, from seeking a path through the urban landscape, that I did as a teenager. Riding through traffic, I’m focused on the calculations of my own movement, and the movement of the objects around me: cars, pedestrians, buses, Other cyclists. I’m in a zone where I am totally immersed in the present moment, where I’m focused on being in motion through a fascinating, and often beautiful, world around me. I’m in complete control of my speed, connected with both the machine I’m using to move, and the world I’m moving through, and it’s an amazing mind-clearing experience.

But in all of this, I just love riding a bike because it allows me to really see the city I now live in. I can go anywhere without worrying about traffic or parking. I can see the streets around me, yet have time to notice details. And I can experience the most beautiful places in New York, along the waterways and historical edges of the city, and choose to stop, to slow down, to pass by. I am fully immersed in the city. I am able to know the city better from my bike, by covering more of it at bike speed, than I ever could otherwise.

So, of course, I have been waiting to share this with Ben. I had been planning to acquire a trailer bike: one of those half-bikes for children that attaches to a grownups bike. I mentioned this to Paul’s cousin in law when we last visited Philadelphia for Easter. She immediately went to her garage, and handed me the bike she had been using with her youngest child. “We never use it anymore,” she said. “Take it, and send a picture.”. I was delighted. It was like getting a new toy, and I couldn’t wait to connect it to my newly tuned up and fixed up bike, and head off into Brooklyn with my baby.

It took us a month, while we searched for a missing hitch piece, but Ben and I finally started riding together this weekend. I connected up the trailer bike to my bike, and did a test run with it, up to the bike store to pump up Bens tire. Ben was apprehensive at first, but finally allowed himself to be coaxed onto the bike. Then, once he felt safe, we started moving. Once he realized he wasnt going to fall, he sat on the bike, thrilled to be moving so fast, and occasionally trying to pedal (his little legs are JUST a bit short, so he can’t really pedal yet, but he does half rotations when he can). After the first test ride, Ben proclaimed the trailer bike to be “awesome”. With that endorsement, we took off our on first neighborhood adventure, and set off to ride around Prospect Park.

I found out quickly that, while having the trailer bike on the back doesn’t affect my balance too much, it does mean I have to adjust to the added weight. I can’t turn corners too sharply, and I can’t stop suddenly, so I do have to ride in a more conservative way than I usually do. The trailer bike also adds over sixty pounds (the bike is 30 pounds and Ben weighs about 36 pounds), so I’m riding with a lot more weight than I’m used to.

But it is so worth it to be able to ride with Ben on the back of the bike! It opens up a whole range of Brooklyn for us to experience. Yesterday, we actually saw the other side of Prospect Park, parts of the park we’ve never been to because it just took too long to walk there. We looped the whole park in less than half an hour, when it would take hours, even with Ben’s trike, to cover that much ground, if we had been going to the library or the Greenmarket at Grand Army Plaza, we could have covered the mile and change up there in ten minutes, and not in the twenty-plus it usually takes us. Small differences, but when you’re dealing with a small child and his short little legs, they become bigger differences. Plan changing differences. Suddenly, extra minutes add up into hours, and I can travel without planning around subway lines, around bus schedules, or around Ben’s ability to walk or ride his trike.

Saturday, we managed to loop the park and pick up take -out on the way home. Yesterday, we decided on an even bigger adventure. After hearing that Ben’s BFF Aidan, and his dad Brian, were going up to DUMBO to visit Brooklyn Bridge Oark and ride the carousel, we decided to bike up and meet them. I checked a bike map of Brooklyn, loaded up the kiddo, and off we went. We coasted down the hill, from Park Slope down to Gowanus, and then headed north though Carroll Gardens into Cobble Hill. We pedaled through Brooklyn Heights, and downtown Brooklyn, and finally came out at the new waterfront park. After some confusion, we made our way to the little beach between the bridges, whe Ben happily threw rocks into the East River for twenty minutes while I gulped water and rested.

We had a lovely time at the park, too. Aidan and Ben got to ride the carousel. For them, it was just a carousel ride, but for us grownups, it’s an experience. Jane’s Carousel is in a clear plastic enclosure on the East River, to protect it from the weather. It is an exquisitely restored carousel that was orginally commissioned, like a work of art, for the then prosperous city of Youngstown, OH, in 1922. The horses are beautifully carved and painted, the floor is honey-colored wood, and even the ceiling is gorgeously detailed, painted with flowers and vines and butterflies. It’s a fantasy carousel, even more so because of where it’s located, across from Manhattan, with views of both the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges. The music it plays is from a pipe organ and an automated drum, and combined with the grass, the sunshine and all the happy families out for Mothers Day, it felt more like we were in a small town, part of a community, than in the big, impersonal city. It was just astonishingly beautiful, and it made Ben so happy to ride the carousel with his buddy.

After that though, we had to say our goodbyes and ride home. We followed the bike lanes back down through Red Hook, east into Carroll Gardens, down through Gowanus, over the canals, und the subway…and back to the start of the hill up to Park Slope. They don’t call it the Slope because it’s flat. It’s called Park Slope because there is a very long slope that leads up to the neighborhood. It’s just under a mile, five long streets, from 2nd Avenue to 7th Avenue. I shifted down several gears, and took it one street at a time. Unfortunately, by then, Ben was starting to get tired, hungry and crabby, and was whining that the hill would make him more tired. As I pushed the pedals, gasped for breath, and just tried to keep moving, i kept hearing “I’m tired, Mama. I don’t want to ride anymore,” and only the threat of walking (“I will stop this bike and we can both walk it home!”) got him to stop whining.

But we made it home successfully, albeit with slightly frayed nerves. And except for those last few minutes, it was a wonderful bonding experience. While that bonding is the best part of the rides, I also love that being on a bike lets Ben see the world around him. While we were riding through Cobble Hill, he suddenly observed, “These are pretty houses, Mama.”. And they were. We were in a section of brick town homes, some painted colors, some left reddish brown, and Ben noticed that. I want my baby to grow up to really notice and observe the world around him. Letting him see it from the back of my bike is worth every second of the ride up the Slope.

manhattan madness

I’m in NYC again today, comfortably ensconced in the Sheraton Midtown. I’m here for all of two days again, flying out tomorrow. I miss Mr Ben already, and I still woke up at 5:30, local time, without the sound of him trying to walk in his crib (it thumps against the wall between the bedrooms).

Last night, I was so exhausted that I couldn’t do much more than procure dinner and go to bed. The Theater District is notoriously overcrowded and overpriced, due to the high concentration of tourists. Yelp recommended the halal cart on 53rd and 6th. Yes, that is the first street vendor I’ve ever known to have their own website while still running a cart. I took my chicken, rice and lettuce to go, picked up some Tasti-d-Lite for dessert, and returned to my hotel room.

In the process though, I was thinking about why New York City feels, weirdly, familiar to me. It shouldn’t. I’m from as far away from here as you can get in terms of North American cities (and right now, Victoria does seem half a world away). The reason this city feels to me like someplace I visited in childhood, is because of all those children’s books that are set in the city, whose titles I totally can’t remember the names of. But they’re out there, dozens of them, books about children living in apartments in Manhattan, about children living in houses in Brooklyn, about Central Park, all these books that describe the city. And because of that, when I get to New York, it’s that lifetime of cultural references, starting with those books, that makes it feel more familiar than it should.

Also, sometimes, when I’m walking through Midtown, it reminds me of downtown Vancouver: the same density, the glass buildings, the thousands of people. The difference is, of course, that Vancouver backs onto the mountains and the rest of British Columbia. Manhattan flows out in all directions to suburbs across the rivers, millions of people, and no end in sight. Like Los Angeles, but with more parks and green space instead of all the roads and cement, which is KIND OF RIDICULOUS.

I think I have enough time to scoot up for a quick walk to Central Park and back down – it’s seven of the short blocks from here (streets?) I’d better get on that.